John Wooden and UCLA are intertwined like Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It’s nearly impossible to speak to one without mentioning the other. UCLA’s powerhouse program is built on the prowess and character of Wooden. It has also been living in that shadow ever since.
What if the shadow fell on another program? Perhaps his alma mater: Purdue University.
Many don’t associate Wooden and Purdue, or at least, not in his coaching career. However, to the state of Indiana and to the Purdue program, that name, reputation and accolades are well documented.
Wooden became the first person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. His career at Purdue concluded by becoming the first three-time consensus All-American, and he received National Player of the Year honors in 1932.
In his senior year, he would lead Purdue to its sole National Championship, although don’t expect it to be found in many historians’ records, as it was obtained seven years prior to the establishment of the NCAA tournament, and was retroactively awarded four years after the championship was earned.
John Wooden’s playing career seemed to provide a seamless transition and opportunity to a coaching career at his alma mater.
In 1948 John Wooden was offered to become an assistant coach at Purdue. On face value, it may appear that John Wooden may have felt slighted by the fact he was offered an assistant position, but it was to the contrary. Purdue had offered a succession plan for Wooden to take over after current coach Mel Taube‘s contract expired. Wooden considered Taube a friend, and feeling the University was mistreating its’ soon-to-be departed coach, he eventually turned down the offer.
While Purdue has obtained marginal success over the decades, John Wooden becoming a regular in the NCAA tournament must still leave a bittersweet feeling for them call him one of their own.